Revd Howard Sharp: June 2015
Calming the storm
Preached by Revd Howard Sharp 21st June 2015.
Readings 1 Sam 17: 32-49: 2 Cor.6:1-13
Mark 4 35-41
( If not done before introduce myself to congregation)
I'm here because I met Keith at a Christmas party and told him I was a recently retired URC minister. He later invited me for a coffee and I found myself on "The Plan" But it is good to be here and sharing in this worship with you.
I wonder what you make of the 2 dramatic stories we have read this morning. A little shepherd boy defeating a 7 and a half foot giant soldier with a sling shot and a man, albeit Jesus, whom Christians have come to believe was God incarnate, stilling a storm at sea.
There will be people here who are more literally minded and have no problems in seeing these stories as historical and they tell us that with God at our side or on our side storms can be weathered and enemies defeated and for many people that is true to their experience of life.
Others here may be more sceptical ( and certainly many outside the church will be) yet they may well see a great metaphorical truth embodied in the stories that doesn't seem very different in its effect to those in the first group.
My own experience of faith in a storm has coloured my understanding. Shortly after I was ordained and serving in my first church I hit a bit of a crisis. Firstly, the manse we lived in was the house we had bought because the church in South Wales we went to didn't have money for a manse. Within a month of moving in we discovered dry rot, which over a period of 18 months we discovered had infected 7 of the 11 rooms in the house. Our 2 young children had to sleep next door with neighbours for 3 months. We lived in just 3 rooms for 6 months. My wife became ill and I had to pack all my books up to protect them from dust. The repairs took all our savings and more so that we had to increase the mortgage.
Towards the end of my first year I discovered I wasn't God's gift to ministry. The church wasn't growing and the youth work was really struggling. One Saturday night, preparing a sermon, I realised I couldn't preach what I had written. I rang a minister colleague and just said "Tom, I can't preach and I feel God forsaken."I was in desperate need of sympathy and encouragement.Tom simply said " Good, now you'll know how Jesus felt and how members of your congregation feel some of the time." And he put the phone down!
And I was fuming!So I sat down and finished the sermon and woke up the next morning feeling absolutely awful but with the sense that I was not alone — that's all.
And really I think that is what these scriptures mean to me. Life can get pretty messy at times, for most of us, unless we're extremely lucky. Christians, women and men of faith are not exempt from life's harshest problems. Faith, or even leading a good life is no protection from life's realities. Jesus had to constantly battle against that view.
1) God sends sunshine on the just and unjust — no special privileges
2) Do you think that when the tower of Siloam fell and killed 19 people they were more sinful than the rest of you?
So what's the point of faith?
If we ask that question we betray ourselves. We fall into the trap of "What's in it for me" and Jesus constantly said, "Take up your cross daily and follow me" Whoever wants to save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake and gospels will find it."
For me the question is "What do we make of Jesus?" Undoubtedly for Mark, the gospel writer, he sees JC as the incarnation of God, an expression of God in human form. He doesn't say that quite as explicitly as John does. But he knew the Jewish Bible, the O.T. and that it was God, Yahweh himself who tamed the raging sea and the sea monsters therein.The sea and the sea monsters were symbolic of the powers of evil and only God can take them on and defeat them In the story of the calming of the storm Mark portrays Jesus as the One with such powers.
"Who is this that even the sea and waves obey him"
Have we come to understand Jesus as the one who embodied God in a human life and if so, have we grasped the significance of that. If his life had to face problems, difficulties, temptations, hardships, loneliness, disappointment, misunderstanding and the rest, why shouldn't ours?
For me Jesus is the most amazing person that has ever lived. If I had longer this morning I'd list all the reasons why I think that. His life had something authentic about it, something real something good that was not sugary sentimentality but which encountered life with all its joys and brutalities and he kept his faith and his integrity.
Those of you brought up in the church and who are as old as me or older might remember a story in the book of Daniel with the characters Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace.
These 3 characters are arrested because they will not bow down to the pagan god and do as the Babylonian king instructs them. So the king threatens them with death in the burning fiery furnace and he says "Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands." Now we who know the story know there is happy ending and though they are thrown in the fire they are not consumed. But we so easily forget the words of these men in reply to the king. They say "If God whom we serve is able to deliver us, let him deliver us. But be it known to you, O king, that even if not, we will not worship the golden statue you have set up."
Now I believe that is what real faith is and that is the kind of faith that Jesus exercised on the cross.
And I think that is the kind of faith that Paul was writing about in his letter to the Corinthians.
Paul and his fellow workers were being criticised and bad mouthed by many in Corinth and they had to "prove" their worth and integrity.
Paul lists what they went through — hardships, beatings, imprisonments, beatings, sleepless nights and so on. And then he lists the characteristics that got them through. Purity; knowledge;patience;kindness; holiness of spirit, genuine love,truthful speech and the power of God.
That's the kind of faith that triumphs in adversity.
I don't know what adversity you people face today. We know that for some Christians in the world unspeakable things have happened in recent weeks. But it's not just Christians -ordinary men and women and children are being scarred for life by their experiences. That is the kind of world we live in.
For most of us in this country our hardships are to do with personal relationships, ill health, financial security and various kinds of abuse. They are nevertheless real. And faith in Christ offers us nothing more than companionship in and through those ills.
When we take the bread and wine of communion we are offered that relationship — companion literally means one who shares our bread.
And I believe that all that Jesus stood for and still stands for is the food and nourishment we need for life. It is not all hardship and grind. Jesus himself knew joy and love and beauty and goodness and reminded all his followers that forgiveness is at the heart of what it means to be human.
And yet there is always the feeling of "is it worth it?" and is there anything in it for me. Well I believe there is something and that is our experiences. A former bishop of Salisbury, John Austin Baker was once asked at a dinner party by a well known actress,"What if at the end there is no heaven, just nothing?" John replied "Well I should be sad because it would mean that love of God I've experienced in life wasn't the final word. But I can't think of a better way to have lived."
So Did David defeat Goliath with five smooth pebbles and defeat his giant? Did Jesus still a storm with a few words or was is simply a squall on the sea of Galilee which it is famous for and Mark was able to draw out the deep spiritual significance of the event?
Christians will differ in their interpretation and I for one don't think it matters too much.
When we start to plumb the depths of the significance of this remarkable man we discover one whose Spirit is still alive and active today who draws out faith and love and hope and forgiveness that can move mountains, slay giants and still life's most fearsome storms.
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